Scientist writes that vaccine he developed taught guinea pigs to recognize and rebel against tick saliva—not the virus they transmit.

A new laboratory-stage mRNA vaccine that teaches the immune system to recognize the saliva from tick bites could prevent these bugs from feeding on and transmitting tick-borne diseases to people, according to a recent study my colleagues and I conducted in the Fikrig Lab at the Yale School of Medicine, writes Dr. Andaleeb Sajid in the Daily Beast.

Some animals repeatedly exposed to tick bites are eventually able to develop resistance to tick feeding, where the ticks either detach soon after biting or cause skin redness that alerts the host to remove them. Scientists have observed this tick immunity in several animals that don’t typically serve as hosts to ticks, including guinea pigs, rabbits, and cows.

In laboratory settings, guinea pigs bitten 2-3 times by ticks are able to develop robust immunity against them. While there have not been any formal studies on tick immunity in humans, people who have been repeatedly exposed to ticks can get itchy skin after getting bitten, a symptom that may be associated with tick immunity.

Our lab was curious if we could induce tick immunity without tick bites. So we developed an mRNA vaccine called 19ISP that teaches cells to recognize 19 selected proteins present in the spit that Ixodes scapularis, also known as the deer or black-legged tick, leaves on the skin during a bite. Instead of targeting proteins on the invading pathogen—like the spikes on the outside of the coronavirus—our vaccine targets proteins naturally found in the tick’s saliva.

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